They have been tested, examined, judged, and graded since childhood; They were told they must excel, compete, and succeed. But thanks to Covid-19, across Europe, a generation of school and university dropouts face a bleak present and an uncertain future.
When The Guardian asked Europeans in their late teens and early 20s how the pandemic had made them feel, they may have expected a torrent of frustration: lost jobs, friendships forcibly attenuated, dates canceled. What came out was a critique of capitalism.
Like their predecessors in the uprisings that followed the 2008 crisis, this generation of young people is ready to draw systemic conclusions from the way political elites have handled the pandemic. They know they will pay higher taxes, have higher personal debt, and face more uncertainty than any generation since World War II.
They understand that, in addition to the aftermath of Covid-19, they will be dealing with a climate emergency for the foreseeable future. And they are equally sure that they cannot influence the political present.
This, as we are likely to see as summer rolls in, is an explosive mix. From Dublin to Cardiff, from Barcelona to Berlin, young people are responding to the relief of confinement restrictions with demonstration parties: flashmob raves, sudden beach invasions, instant get-togethers in the clubbing districts of various cities. Wherever there are political protests, like the two pro-Palestine demonstrations in London last month, they have appeared in large, vocal and defiant groups.
But as the testimonies show, behind the liberation there is deep frustration. Because while the elderly have mainly borne the physical health risks of Covid, the young have borne the mental health risks. “Last year it was a wooden stage and I fell through it,” writes one of the respondents. Another speaks of experiencing something equivalent to a “midlife crisis” at the age of 22. Anger and despair are evident, but so is the political conclusion that many have drawn: that society is run by the old, by the old.
The young men were ordered to put their lives on hold to protect a generation that had already lived theirs. If that had been accompanied by money, support and, above all, some gestural sympathy for the socially liberal views and culture of those under 24, the blow could have been softened. Instead, they heard their views and lifestyles ridiculed as they “woke up,” and saw politicians everywhere obsessed with placating social conservatism and meeting the material needs of homeowners, entrepreneurs, and those who already had a track record. stable professional.
Generation Z already knew that they would be poorer than their parents: their siblings at the end of the millennium had learned that lesson after the crisis of 2008. But the future, as bleak as it seemed for the generation that took the seats in 2011, at least it seemed to promise a binary and safe fight: against racism, sexism, austerity and climate denial.
In these testimonies the leitmotif is uncertainty. They are willing to believe, as one of the respondents put it, that “the world could end tomorrow”; that civilization could collapse; that the current system “is held together with tape and toothpicks”; that the present is as “unpredictable as it is monotonous”.
And they are right. Compared to the risks, the world’s climate mitigation efforts are a joke. The unspoken subtext of this year’s COP26 climate conference is clear to young people: that we, the SUV-driving, suit-wearing generation, will do our best within the limits of what big business can tolerate and what big companies can tolerate. Elderly voters will accept. We are prepared to fail because we will not be able to live with the consequences.
When it comes to mitigating the risk of new pandemics, in most countries where responses come from, young people tend to view the actions of those in power as incompetent, shortsighted, or corrupt.
In hindsight, the entire political cycle since 2008 can be read as a response to the financial crisis. At that time, eighteen-year-olds had their futures canceled. They took to the streets, bombarded them with water cannons and, in response, became involved in political movements like Podemos, Syriza, Corbynism, and the Sanders campaign.
The impact of Covid is, in many ways, bigger than the impact of 2008. It has revealed to an entire generation that when the dirt hits the fan, there is no one there to help and, thanks to an aging demographic, politics is piling up. against him. .
So the question is, how do young people react? They will party everywhere and in some places they will riot. And they will look for political alternatives.
If I had to predict where this would go next, it would not be towards the anarchism of the early anti-globalization movement, but towards the kind of “climate Bolshevism” advocated by the Swedish environmentalist. Andreas Malm.
Social democracy, says Malm, does not have a theory of catastrophe: the same could be said of liberalism and dominant green politics. They are not designed for sudden and urgent action. His replacement must be radical, centralist and ruthless.
This generation has a theory of catastrophe. They have seen how effectively centralized power can be exercised; how quickly injustice can be inflicted; how empty are the legitimacy claims of a government that cannot organize a lockdown or a vaccination campaign. If they discover a new collective project, I doubt that it is gradualist or that their ambitions are small.
Paul Mason is a freelance journalist, writer and filmmaker. His book How to Stop Fascism is published in August 2021.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism